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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  ARTICLE  
     
  Game of fixers  
  IPL of corruption  
   
  A BISHOP I know was offered the costliest ticket to watch an Indian Premier League (IPL) match at Nagpur. He could have sat in the VIP gallery and attended the post-match celebrations also. Though he is a cricket enthusiast, he refused to accept the offer, perhaps, for fear that the television cameras would have been trained on him. There was also the fear that he would have been rubbing shoulders with the likes of wrestler Dara Singh's son Vindoo Randhawa, who is under police custody now.

There is absolutely no harm for a religious person to not only enjoy sports and games but also take part in them. Once I had gone to the house of a Secretary to the Government of India in New Delhi to fetch the late Alexander Marthoma, who was staying there. I found him engrossed in the Wimbledon finals being telecast. The moment he saw me, he looked at his watch, got up and accompanied me to attend a programme, where he was the chief guest.

As I drove him to Karol Bagh, he told me how captivating the match was and how great the Czech American tennis player Martina Navratilova was. It was many years later in 2006 that Billie Jean King, former world number one player, described her as "the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who has ever lived". She merely echoed the opinion the bishop had expressed to me a decade earlier. I also realized that the bishop did not find anything incongruous in enjoying sports.

A healthy, sports-loving bishop is certainly preferable to an unhealthy bishop who asks "who is Sreesanth?" and "what is spot-fixing?" Let me now answer the second question.
Spot-fixing refers to an illegal activity in a sport where a specific part of a game is fixed. Examples include something as minor as timing a no ball or wide delivery in cricket. Compared to most Christian bishops and Muslim clerics, Hindu sanyasis maintain better health. In fact, some of the practices they follow like the way they sit cross-legged are certainly health-inducing.

Once a teenager approached Swami Vivekananda with a request that he be accepted as his disciple. The swami, who maintained good health through yogic practices, fetched a football, gave it to him and said: "Young man, now is the time for you to play, not to think of the emancipation of soul which can wait". The moral of the story is that there is a time for everything in a person's life.

Shakespeare divides a man's life into seven stages in his celebrated poem 'All the World's a Stage'. Hinduism defines four stages in a man's life. The first three stages are of the student, the householder and the retired person, while the fourth is of the ascetic. The swami also implied that excessive religiosity is as unacceptable as excessive worldliness.

The bishop I mentioned at the beginning of this column had the wisdom to reject the offer of watching an IPL match in comfort and style. Alas, Indian pacer S. Sreesanth lacked that wisdom to reject the offer of Rs 40 lakh the betting syndicates had allegedly offered him to let down the Rajasthan Royals to which he belonged. Had he remembered his past as a struggling cricketer and the palatial house and the BMWs he earned through honest cricketing, he would not have fallen in the net of the betting racketeers.

I know one of the oldest, if not the oldest, cricket enthusiast in India. She is my aunt, who has turned 93 and lives in the Capital. She may have some visual and hearing impairments because of old age, but nothing can distract her when she watches a Twenty20 tournament or a Test match. She also enjoys giving her own spot commentary when a match is on. I have always been amazed by her latter-day interest in cricket and her thorough knowledge of the game, introduced to the subcontinent by the British.

She would be scandalized to know that it is not pure cricket that she often watches. The practitioners of the game have become so corrupt like Sreesant, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila, now in police custody, that nobody knows which part of a match has been fixed and which player has splashed the ill-gotten money on his girlfriend. Thanks to the threesome, cricket-lovers would hereafter be looking for the signals they would be giving the bookies like the handkerchief that Sreesanth cleverly used. My aunt is just one of the tens of millions of people in India whose love for the game is exploited by these sharks to make more money.

I must admit that I have never been able to develop a liking for the game. It's embarrassing to be in social circles when you are an ignoramus, I mean about cricket. Much of the interest in cricket is phoney, to say the least. While I was posted in Chandigarh, my colleague Abhijit Chatterjee would help me get a VIP pass whenever a match was held at the Mohali stadium. I would invariably pass it on to a friend in Delhi whom I asked what he liked most about the matches at Mohali: "I enjoy drinking beer in the VIP box".

Why did he have to come all the way to Chandigarh to "drink beer"? The first time I went to the Mohali stadium, arguably the best in India, was to watch an India-Pakistan match. I did not have a pass but my colleague Chitleen K. Sethi, now with the Indian Express, had enough clout with the Punjab Police to ensure that I was comfortably seated. What I noticed was that the spectators were more interested in eating and drinking than watching the match. But for the giant electronic screens, they could not have even followed the match's progress from the stadium.

Match-fixing and spot-fixing were not prevalent when the British ruled India. Otherwise, the much-maligned Thomas Babington Macaulay would not have forgotten to include it in the Indian Penal Code, which he drafted and which remains in its pristine form, unlike the Indian Constitution, drafted more than a century later and amended a hundred times. New Law Minister Kapil Sibal has declared his intention to enact a new law to deal with spot-fixing. We think of new laws like the law against domestic violence, which are seldom implemented.

Who will pass such a law? Obviously the Indian Parliament. One of the MPs, who is expected to take part in the debate, represents Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. He is Mohammed Azharuddin. I am sure many of my readers will recall him as the one South African captain the late Hansie Cronje had named as the person who introduced him to betting. This was in 2000, the year of the Jubilee.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) imposed a life ban on Azharuddin after he had allegedly admitted to fixing three ODI matches. It is a different matter that the BCCI later honoured him for his life-time achievement and the Andhra Pradesh High Court found the ban on him "unsustainable".

Many think that Sreesanth is the first Malayali cricketer to enter the cricket's hall of infamy. Actually, that honour should go to Ajay Jadeja, whom the BCCI had banned for five years because of his alleged involvement in match-fixing. His mother is a Malayalee and his wife Aditi is the daughter of Samata Party leader and George Fernandes' close confidante, Jaya Jaitley, who is a Malayalee.

As my former colleague Ajay Banerjee has posted on his Facebook wall, if the manner in which the Delhi Police has been leaking information about Sreesanth, it would not be a surprise if he is found to have been involved in the Bofors scandal and the disappearance of Netaji Bose! Two thousand years ago, an itinerant preacher saw a fallen woman being questioned by some worthies. He told them: "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her".

Unlike we the 21st-century people, they were more civilized and honest. They left the scene one by one, leaving the woman unharmed. In today's India, they would have all remained there and the first to throw the stone would have been a serial rapist. The law in India says a person is considered innocent until he is proved guilty. Kerala's Finance Minister K.M. Mani took the extraordinary step of calling a Press Conference to announce the cancellation of a contract with Sreesanth to promote a government programme.

A few days later, he said he had no problem if former forest minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar, accused of moral turpitude and mercilessly beating his wife, returned to the Cabinet. He also welcomed the proposed appointment of Kumar's father, R. Balakrishna Pillai, the only minister punished for corruption by the Supreme Court and who underwent "one-year's imprisonment" as chairman of a state corporation with Cabinet minister's rank. Is this not hypocrisy of the highest order?

Not to lag behind, film producer Kaithapram announced removal of Sreesanth from a film in which the cricketer was given a small role. Film actor Kalabhavan Mani is now on bail because of a case in which he is alleged to have manhandled two forest guards who had the temerity to ask him a few questions. Will the Kaithaprams remove him from all the films till he is exonerated of the charges?

Does anyone in the cricket establishment have any right to question Sreesanth? Now, take the case of BCCI chief N. Srinivasan. His word is the law in the BCCI. He owns a large company, India Cements. When T20 League was launched, he got the Board amend its constitution to allow him to own a team against all the cannons of fair play and corporate governance. "When he speaks to the cricket world, no one knows in which capacity he is doing so: as the man who heads the Board or the one who owns the Chennai Super Kings."

Srinivasan does not have even a fig leaf to cover his nakedness, as the Delhi Police have reason to believe that his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is involved in betting. Union Minister Pawan Bansal had to quit because his nephew is alleged to have received a huge bribe from a senior railway official. Does this not suggest that Srinivasan, too, should also quit the BCCI post?

The BCCI is the world's richest cricket body. Union Ministers Sharad Pawar and Rajiv Shukla might never have touched a cricket bat but they are more interested in running cricket affairs than national affairs. Why is that so? It is all because of the money involved in cricket. The BCCI's budget is larger than that of several smaller states in the Northeast.

The police have leaked a statement attributed to Sreesanth that he had paid several lakhs of rupees to get into a team. Who took money from him? Why are they not arrested as accepting bribe is as criminal as offering it? How is Srinivasan more honest than Sreesanth? Even the media are complicit. An editor I know never misses a major cricket match, whether it is held in Melbourne or at Mohali.

Recently, the Prime Minister of China and the President of Afghanistan visited New Delhi and held discussions with Indian leaders. I need not mention how important the visits were but the media -- both print and electronic -- gave greater importance to cricket than their visits. Even the fourth anniversary of the UPA government -- an occasion to evaluate its performance -- was glossed over by the media in their overweening desire to cover cricket.

The bishop who declined the ticket for the Nagpur match asked the person who offered it to give him the cash, instead, so that he could use it to start another Gram Jyoti school in North India. I am not sure whether he got the money or not but that is the attitude we, too, should adopt towards the fixers and their "fixed matches".

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com

Courtesy: Indian Currents
 
  By  A.J. Philip  
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